A ranch in Arizona raising prime beef cattle and selling it to nearby Indian casinos is being eyed as a new model for Native ranchers that have long struggled to make ends meet in a tough market.
Indian Country Today Media Network’s Lee Allen has the story:
Navajo ranchers are a hard-working lot, sitting tall in the saddle keeping an eye on roving range cattle—and now that hard work is starting to pay off. Quality grass-fed beef has now found its way into the newly-opened Twin Arrows casino, and other Indian gaming operations are taking a closer look at this Native-raised prime product.
“We’re an independent people, but we’ve worked together on this project,” says Gene Shepherd (Navajo), foreman of the 60,000-acre Padres Mesa Ranch on reservation land in Chambers, Arizona. His site is called a demonstration ranch because it acts as a training model for others to study.
. . .
One of the ranches observing the prototype lessons is 14R in the New Lands area (Nahata D’zhil) where 81 permit holders share 360,000-acres of grazing land under the leadership of ranch president Al Pahi. (New Lands is a section of the reservation set aside for Navajos relocated from Hopi partitioned lands).
“We show relocatees good ranching practices to elevate the standards of raising cattle,” says Pahi. “We’ve got 14 range units, about 25,000 acres per unit, where permittees are allowed up to 30 head of cattle,” he says, adding: “Our beef grazes naturally and feeds on a particular type of sage shrub that brings lots of protein and other nutrients as well as adding special flavor to our meat.”
Because Indian-owned casino restaurants have a growing need for quality meats—and because there are about 20 gaming facilities in Arizona with more across the border in New Mexico, the new Native American Beef Marketing Program aims to sell fairly-priced Navajo-raised beef to Native-owned casinos to feed hungry tourists.
. . .
One reason the Indian rancher/Indian casino connection is expected to prosper under Labatt’s leadership is the fact that there’s more than just reservation-grown ribeye. “Native American casinos are great customers, but they don’t have a need for all parts of the cow,” says distributor spokesman James Dublin. “They can use the steaks, but don’t have a need for other parts. We can find a home for every muscle, splitting the animal between Native casinos and elsewhere in our customer base.
“There’s a strong sense that this unique partnership program could move much more deeply into the Navajo Nation because they have so much land, there’s no need to over-graze. Cattle can be gently relocated without damaging landscape or stressing the animal, similar to what the Japanese do with their highly-praised Kobe beef.”